On the Translation of Culture-Specific Terms Related to Thai Superstitions and Beliefs

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Supannee Pinmanee


This academic article focuses on the methodology that is most effective in conveying the meaning of a source text (ST) into the language of the translation, the target text (TT). The article looks specifically at the problems in translation that arise from the lack of a one-to-one correspondence between words and concepts used in Thai with words and concepts used in English. The methodology proposed is that of Newmark (1995) which employs eighteen strategies of translation of culturally bound terms. The terms used in this area show very well not only the differences in language but also the differing cultures and world views of the speakers of Thai and those of English. English has developed its own set of culturally specific words and terms for beliefs, which when used in an attempt to convey the words and terms used in Thai generally convey the meaning of the Thai expression inadequately. Newmark’s strategies are used in the article to illustrate the particularly difficult task of translating terms expressing Thai superstitions and beliefs into English, a language which embodies a very different culture with its own beliefs and assumptions. Other problems considered include semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic aspects in translating. It was found that translation of culture-specific terms is possible and possible to a certain degree of effectiveness. However, it is imperative that the successful translator possesses the necessary knowledge and skills to translate not only the language of the source text but also the culture of the source text into the language and culture of the target text.


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Note: The author has taken notes on what ordinary Thai people talk about with regards to their superstitions and beliefs and formed the ideas from extensive reading of the media. Some of the concepts found were extraordinarily intricate, while some others were obscure and so specific to the Thai speech-community that it seemed impossible to translate them adequately into English. In the attempt to find the answers to the questions of what was possible and what was impossible to translate, the author investigated the media both online and offline. Of the stories and articles related to Thai superstitions and beliefs found, the author tried out various experiments in translating, parsing, modifying, altering and adjusting words and expressions to obtain the closest meaning to the Thai concepts and to verify the translation strategies. The following are the sources out of which words and expressions have been collected.

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